This review contains spoilers.
So four episodes in – nearly halfway – and we’ve had a pretty good season so far, a so-so opener but two strong follow-ups and now Emilie which sits somewhere comfortably inbetween. Written by Showrunner Adrian Hodges and directed by Andy Hay (of first season’s Knight Takes Queen and The Exiles as well as a future episode within this season), Emilie is a very different beast than last week’s somewhat frenetic The Good Traitor. However, whereas The Good Traitor was better than the sum of its many parts, Emilie never seems to fly in the way the previous episode did. Here are a couple of thoughts on why that might be.
First up, the main story and predominant focus is on the titular Emilie. Played with some care by Emma Lowndes, Emilie is a different character for the Musketeers to handle. She represents the people of France (or at least those on the wrong side of the tracks) and has God on her side. This isn’t your typical Musketeer bad guy – who usually fights against the people of France and represents an abomination in the face of God (well – so says the King). Sometimes change can be good, and this is very much the case as Emilie presents an interesting conundrum for the Musketeers in how they cope with someone that doesn’t sit so easily on their bad-guy check-o-meter.
As the ‘religious’ one, Aramis acts the sneak in order to get the low-down on Emilie but then commits an act of betrayal in order to protect her when he figures out that she’s being drugged. This is where it kind of goes a little icky. This is certainly a get-out-of-jail card for the Musketeers – they don’t have to face an moral conundrum, and heaven forbid that there may be a crisis of faith (see what I did) as it isn’t God giving Emilie her mission, but her creepy mother using freaky mushrooms, (which reminds me – not content with nearly killing the Dauphin in last week’s episode, Lemay decides the best approach in testing the broth was by tasting it! Worst. Doctor. Ever). It’s all too neat and easy whereas the more interesting route would have been pretty much anything that didn’t involve mushrooms. I appreciate that they’ve got to get the story to fit into a single episode but the show suffers for it in the end. In the end, the interesting change away from the typical Musketeer antagonist is somewhat undermined by a seeming need to wrap everything in a tidy bow.
Intermingled between the various stages of the main plot, Emilie continues to explore the relationships the show so vividly brought to life in The Good Traitor. The King’s continued affair with Milady remains a high point of the past two episodes. Both Cage and McCoy appear to be enjoying playing against each other although I’m starting to suspect that it won’t end well. Regardless of Rochefort’s interference, the small scene with Milady alone and happy in her chambers gives some credence to her intent to go ‘clean’ but I can’t honestly see her character being blessed with happiness.
Likewise, Rochefort as a character seems to develop into something new every week. Normally that would be a complaint, but with Rochefort it seems to work as the more time with spend with him, the more sides of the whole we see, rather than a disjointed characterisation. This week we saw more of the thuggishness and intimidation that he’s capable of. The fact he got Milady to do his work will undoubtedly come back to hurt him in the future (I don’t think Milady holds grudges well) but also the way in which he dispatched the prostitute and the ambassador is a clear reminder that he isn’t afraid of both getting his hands dirty and pulling the strings. The Cardinal would have been proud. My initial reservations about Warren and the character have now almost completely vanished – Rochefort is a worthy adversary for the Musketeers and I’m already looking forward to the time when they’ll properly come face to face.
One of the storylines that has been more subtle than the rest, albeit no less significant has been the gradual distancing of the King to the Musketeers. Each week we’ve seen them disappoint the King be it Treville turning down the King’s request in Keep Your Friends Close or their failure to capture the new explosive gunpowder in The Good Traitor. All the time Rochefort is there to take advantage of their failure, making the situation and their relationship with the King all the rockier. I mentioned in my review of An Ordinary Man that, if not explicitly, this season has shone a light on what it means to serve and the question of loyalty and honour. The distancing between the King and the Musketeers has put this into context and it was both a little surprising and unfortunately underwhelming that it all came to a head at the end of this episode in what felt like an almost throwaway manner.
The best Musketeer films, in my humble opinion, have been those that have set the King at odds with the Musketeers such that the four either find themselves ostracised, or the whole regiment is disbanded. Although there may be more to come, and next week’s episode will hopefully put this into context, the sacking of Treville just didn’t too it for me as I was hoping for something a little more dramatic. (To be completely honest, the sacking of the Musketeers or even the disbandment of the entire outfit felt like a perfect season cliff-hanger – but this series doesn’t seem to want to go that far. I refer you to my earlier wrapped-in-a-bow-comment).
So I’ve ended on a negative – but Emilie certainly isn’t bad, just not quite as good as the previous two. It kept the pace and developed what has become the overarching storylines well, it’s just a pity the end shock was a bit of a damp squib. Next week of course may well correct that… I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
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